Separating Fact from Fiction: The Role of the Online Fact Checker
In todays digital age, it is easier than ever to access and consume information from a wide range of online sources. However, with the ease of access comes the challenge of determining the accuracy and truthfulness of the information we encounter, Often easier said than done. Disinformation and misinformation are rampant online, and can have serious consequences on public health, politics and society as a whole.
Fact checking has become a crucial tool in our digital armoury and professional fact checkers are used by organisations to verify the accuracy of online content. They play a vital role in combating disinformation by helping people distinguish between what is true and what is false. By providing transparent and well-researched information, fact checkers can help to restore people's faith in the idea that there is such a thing as objective truth. Here at TITAN we applaud all efforts to counter false information, and thought it valuable to take a closer look at why online fact checkers are so important and the crucial role that they play.
The role of the Fact Checker
According to Poynter's Institute International Fact-Checking Network the "number of fact-checkers around the world doubled over the past six years, with nearly 400 teams of journalists and researchers taking on political lies, hoaxes and other forms of misinformation in 105 countries". These online fact checkers use a range of techniques to verify the accuracy of online content. These include searching for credible sources, checking facts against other credible sources and using various online tools to detect fake news or disinformation. They use specialised software that can analyze text, images and videos for signs of manipulation or alteration.
A rigorous evaluation process is followed to ensure they come to a conclusion of accuracy based on evidence. Sources are disclosed and detailed explanations of their methods are published to help users understand how they came to their answer. By making their work transparent and accessible to everyone through publication, they are able to help others.
Additionally, fact checkers play a critical role in educating the public about how to spot false information and how to distinguish between credible and unreliable sources. This helps people become more critical consumers of information , and ultimately reduces the spread of disinformation.
There have been several instances where professional fact checkers have successfully halted disinformation campaigns. In 2019, a website called "Natural News" published a series of articles claiming that the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine was linked to autism. The articles were widely shared on social media and were picked up by anti-vaccine groups. However, fact checkers were able to demonstrate that the claims in the articles were false, and Facebook eventually banned the Natural News page from their platform.
Back in 2018, a viral video was shared online claiming that an outbreak of violence in Nigeria was the result of a muslim plot to overtake the country. The video was widely shared on socila media and even picked up by professional news outlets. Fact checkers demonstrated that the claims in the video were false and the Nigerial government condemed the video as
“People deserve the benefit of the doubt, but information? Always hold it up to a cold white light. Misinformation is a tool of the Devil.”― A.D. Aliwat, In Limbo (book)
However, despite the efforts of online fact-checkers, TITAN understands there are just not enough of them to catch every instance of disinformation. Plus, some people will be reluctant to accept fact checkers findings which contradicts their own beliefs even when presented with evidence to the contrary. Combating disinformation therefore requires a multi-pronged ecosystem approach including elements such as:
Regulation: Governments can play a critical role in combating disinformation by regulating online content and requiring social media platforms to take responsibility for the content they publish. This may include creating laws to hold platforms accountable for the spread of disinformation and providing funding for fact checking organisations.
Literacy: Schools and other institutions can provide education on media literacy tohelp people understand how to distinguish between credible and unreliable sources. This can help people become more aware of what they are potentially sharing online, and help them to avoid sharing false information.
Collaboration: Collaboration between online fact checkers, social media platforms, and other stakeholders can help create a more coordinated response to disinformation. By working together these groups can share information, resources and best practices to combat disinformation more effectively.
TITAN seeks to support online fact checking with the last two elements - literacy to increase critical thinking, and collaboration. Our AI-enabled chatbot will support people in society who wish to make an effort to seek and verify accuracy of information themselves before they share it. This can mean fact checking content themselves and volunteering time to help with research, as well as spreading the word about the importance of fact checking amongst friends and family.
We believe that by enabling the public with the right skills and tools to undertake their own fact checking, we, in conjunction with professional fact checkers can create a more informed and resilient society that is better equipped to distinguish between fact and fiction.
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